On Saturday night, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team will compete against Boston College at the TD Garden, home of the Boston Celtics in the Boston Tip-Off Classic.
The Boston Classic will pit the undefeated Minutemen (7-0) against the historically-strong Eagles (6-2). The two sides are in-state rivals that are competing as a way to build their budding programs.
“I think right now its two programs trying to get their programs where they need to be,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “More so right now it’s at this stage of, let’s get our programs where they need to be. I think in a few years down the line it could be a battle for state supremacy or we’re fighting for the same recruits. Right now, it’s two coaches in their programs trying to find their way and get it to a certain level.”
UMass will rely on its strengths in order to get the job done in Boston. Coming off a 25-point performance against Quinnipiac, guard Javorn Farrell will be at the thick of the Minutemen offense, along with guard Anthony Gurley.
Gurley, who won the game for UMass on Wednesday with a blocked layup that was called goaltending, scored 19 points against the Bobcats (4-2).
One of the strengths in past Minutemen games, along with Farrell and Gurley, was guard Daryl Traynham who came off the bench and provided assistance for the Maroon and White. However, Traynham recently injured his foot and may be sitting out for the game against the Eagles.
“I don’t think he’s going to play, but he’s going to try walking on his foot at least,” Kellogg said. “I don’t know if that means he’s playing on Saturday, more likely no, but I would never rule out a guy like him.”
While the Minutemen didn’t have much offensive help from the rest of the team against QU, they did rely on defensive pressure in the first half to stop the Bobcat offense.
UMass will look to build off similar defensive strengths against the Eagles, as BC boasts some tough talent this year that will surely test the Minutemen on Saturday night.
“They just play a different style,” Kellogg said. “I mean I’ve always thought they had good players. I mean they were good against us last year. They’re playing, they’re playing really well.”
Kellogg explained that the type of offense that the Eagles run is similar to the offense that Atlantic 10-rivals Richmond run, which will be good preparation for the A-10 schedule later this year.
“They’re going to get shots, I mean they do a nice job of setting themselves,” Kellogg said.
Kellogg had his own set of questions for the UMass defense in trying to stop BC from dominating on the offensive floor.
“Are they going to get second shots?” Kellogg asked. “Can you make the shots somewhat tougher? And can we get pressure to them when most guys can handle and make plays?”
One of the top priorities for the UMass defense comes in guard Reggie Jackson, who is the statistically the strongest for the Eagles this season.
Jackson is averaging 19 points a game including a 30-point performance in BC’s 75-67 loss to Yale earlier this season. Jackson isn’t afraid to dish out the ball either, as he gave out 10 dimes against Holy Cross on Nov. 22, which gave the junior a double-double.
Two other strong pieces of the Eagles offense come in forwards Corey Raji and Joe Trapani. Raji is averaging 12.2 points a game, with Trapani holding a nearly similar 13.2 points per game. The two are also strong on the rebounding end of the floor, with Raji nabbing 35 rebounds this season and Trapani grabbing 27 boards.
“I mean Trapani, Jackson, Raji, and those guys have been great,” Kellogg said. “They have a nice array of players. So it’s going to be a tough game for us. I don’t think we’ve played against the level of talent we’ll see on Saturday just yet.”
“That’s the challenge of this game,” Kellogg said. “It’s, can we do what we’ve been doing against some teams to the teams at the level of Boston College?”
Herb Scribner can be reached at email@example.com.